So Far, Yet Not So Near

If the recently finished next stage in the tour of Wexford was to have a soundtrack, it would be this ( ). I know Mick is warbling on about drugs but this swim was the first where I didn’t complete what I set out to do “what I wanted”.

Realising that it is becoming less and less viable to disappear regularly for 12 hours to go and swim in the sunny south-east, I resolved to try and do less swims of greater distances. This moved the schedule around a bit and made the summer a bit less onerous on the family. To that end, this swim was to change from a 6.5 Km swim from Tinnaberna to Ballinaconnigar, to a 10 and a half jaunt to Ballinesker.

The weather outlook was hit and miss from seven days out and it didn’t change much on Windguru as the day approached. The prediction was that on the morning of the swim it would be cloudy with a moderate southerly wind but when I aimed to start swimming the wind would drop to below 10 knots and the air temperature would rise over 10 degrees. This 10 degree metric whas where Windguru changes from a blue to a golden star. In truth, I had studied the chart to know that the actual air temperature is actually up to 5 degrees warmer than the “guru’s” pessimism. The wind direction and speeds isn’t though and this meant I was likely going to be up against it today.

In consultation with the campaign director, Niall, by sending him a screen grab of the forecast asking him his opinion. His response was “Might be OK for a while, but for 90+ minutes might not be fun”. In retrospect, never a truer word!

Still with my head full of ambition I drove to Ballinesker in just over 2 hours. One of my concerns is how I would recognise the finish given the eternal dunes and cliffs of Wexford. As luck would have it there was a shiny lifeguard container demarking the finish line and this set me in a good mood, despite the fact the rain was just about holding off and the skies were grey. My sums told me an hour for the cycle and a max of four hours would be needed for the swim, so at 12 noon just before I set off I tried to ring headquarters in Dublin to say I would ring by 5pm. Unfortunately they didn’t pick up so I sent a text and a whatsapp, waiting for confirmation that they had been delivered.

The bike ride was tough and on unfamiliar road. Given the geography, I knew I would be taking a different turn down to the start than the previous day and I thought I was prepared with a barebones Googlemaps printout. Unfortunately it was more Paris-Dakar than Google Street view. I ended up calling to two different houses on the way to try and confirm the current turn off the main road. I think I managed to carry it off quite well by not drawing attention to the fact that I was in these nice people’s driveways in a wetsuit on a bike.

Eventually at Tinnaberna, the sun had finally come out. I felt a strong southerly breeze on my face. I thought “Oh no” for a moment before I told myself the familiar message that I was here now and just had to get on with it. I hoped that the prophecy of dropping wind speeds at lunch time would come true. Getting into the water, I was now being confronted with a sand bank. I had seen a few in recent swims but this one was twenty meters out and rose to bring the depth less than a foot. I knew I had to swim outside this bank but had no idea what to expect in terms of its impact. I started swimming.

Eventually at Tinnaberna

I swam for 5 minutes in part as a warm up and in part to gauge progress and measure the current. It wasn’t good and I then knew despite my hopes, I was definitely up against it today. I knew enough though at this stage that this was business and there was no room for getting despondent or depressed about it. Thankfully the sun shone brightly even though Windguru had predicted a depression of grey. This helped a lot in my psychology and now I understand why so many Americans retire in Florida (not that it wasn’t obvious anyway).

As I continued I was constantly being brought in by the waves onto the sand banks. Again I didn’t let it get to me. The cliffs were impressive but I was too focused on the challenge to appreciate the view. There were very few people out walking today, probably because it was early Tuesday afternoon so there was no embarrassment in the repetitive standing up and wading back out. At the hour mark I surveyed my progress and I could see Tinnaberna was gone from view but the planned stop over at Ballinaconnigar was indecipherable. I was counting strokes and this took my mind off things successfully. It dawned on me that 200 strokes was a nice quantity. It was both a finite and quantifiable number and one would think also was a distance of note.

I was checking the watch regularly and while my mood wasn’t bad, I was constantly being reminded that I wasn’t moving at great speed. Knowing that Ballinaconnigar was at 6 KM and there was a distinctive sea wall there according to Google, at the ninety minute mark I decided I had earned a pit stop. One thing I forgot to mention is that I had been wearing gloves for this first part and now my arms were tired. Without any basis I had decided that I was likely at the 5 KM mark and still on track for the 5 pm call. It was now 3pm.

It was a bit cold on the beach but the sun was nice, and I had timed it right as I could see there was only fifteen more minutes of sunshine. I had a chocolate bar, some fresh water and a scan of my map printout. Whatever little the map showed me of the roads, its information on the coastline was non existent. Instead of worrying about where I was or wasn’t, I sat in the sun and rested.

The gloves were off now and safely packed in the tow float. Maybe I would be significantly faster without them and that the scheduled Ballinaconnigar would come around soon enough, closely followed by Ballinesker. The sea was starting to get a little choppier and my arms were getting unmercifully tired. Cognisant of the fact that my bare hands didn’t feel in anyway cold, I knew I had been too cautious with wearing the gloves in the first place. It was too late for regrets, the lesson was learnt. Still and all, I wasn’t gaining much ground quickly.

The waves were staring to toss me around quite forcefully and I was then very aware of Niall’s thoughts on it not being fun. I could see the cliffs descend into a more flatter dune vista up ahead but then I could see the forest just south of Curracloe and knew Ballinesker was a long way away. I checked my watch and it was now 4 o clock. Matter of factly I then knew there was no way I was going to swim to Ballinesker in time for a 5pm call. I was realising I was going to have to make decisions. I could barely lift my arms over the water.

At 4:15 pm another wave crashed me up onto a sand bank and without any consideration, I decided there and then that I need to get out. As I stood up on the rocky bed I finally saw the rock wall of Ballinaconnigar less than thirty meters away. Instant;y I knew I had made the right decision. I knew there was another 4 km and only 45 minutes. That would need a world record!

I climbed over the rocks and around to the beach to the other side, deciding I wont think about the ramifications now. Now my aim was to get the 4 km walking distance done by 5. As I walked I had a chill but it wasn’t too bad. I was aware that I wasn’t going to have that feeling of success I normally finished with, but I had no choice. At 5pm I was still walking and I was then beginning to worry than in the absence of the rendez-vous call, the coast guard would get called out.

I finally got back to the car park with its sundry of evening strollers coming and going. It was beginning to rain again but the mood was now one of pragmatism. I would have to return to Ballinaconnigar which was the original plan before I got adventurous, but this was an eye opener to the future. What would happen in a place like west Cork where there wouldn’t be the logistical safety net of eternal beach to the finish?

I rang the boss at 5:17, she picked up and greeted me with a happy disposition wondering how the swim went. I knew not to give out as I was just relieved that she wasn’t worried. I thought then that I had still been on the move for the guts of five hours so I couldn’t in all honesty think of it as a failure.


Thank you for reading this blog. If you feel inclined to contribute to the cause, please click on this link :

And as ever a big Thank You to everyone who has contributed thus far. My friend who wished to remain private about her plight has had a successful treatment of immunology and is making a fantastic recovery.

Morris (Castle) Dancing

In the famous words of John Lennon, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done”. Swimming around the Country unaided by artificial propulsion as an individual has yet to be done, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. The reason I bring it up is because on this leg of the journey, I was questioning why I was doing this and the further I get from Dublin the harder it is going to be to juggle family and work life with swimming life. At the time of writing, Red Bull have not as yet reached out to sponsor me.

The planning was fun as usual, where I spent time looking continually on Google Earth, Windguru and an App I downloaded which charts the prevailing currents in the Irish sea, relative to high tide in Dover. Unfortunately the people who made this App only have data on the waters around the UK, but luckily I remembered a site we came across last year which does the job around Ireland ( Unfortunately the site is dog slow and takes forever to load.

I didn’t know the landscape of today’s swim so I was hoping the exit point would be somehow more discernable than a small dip in the dunes. As luck would have it when I got there, I was able to park the car in a gap between cliffs that was in full view from the water. This was a great relief. Upon arriving, I surveyed the beach and there wasn’t much to see. There were cliffs obviously which carried with them large warning signs at the car park along with a foreboding that when the tide is in, you might be cut off from the exit point.

I had scheduled a three and a half hour slot between the phone calls to Jen. The first at 1:30 to say, I would ring back again by 5. This allowed for an hour for the 10 KM cycle and two and a half hours for the 6KM swim from Ballinoulart back to the car at Tinnaberna. The sun was shining on the road as I steadily made my way along the back roads to Kilmuckeridge. There was the occasional stroller or strollers out and now as I reflect, it seems that type of Country life is quite tranquil. Between Kilmuckeridge and Ballinoulart, I was on the high road to Ballygarrett, but there was no traffic to speak of for the 4 or 5 kilometers. Passing through Kilmuckeridge, I didn’t notice anyone staring at a Dub in a wetsuit on a bike.

The swim itself was mostly lovely. The water was not noticeable temperature-wise and checking later on the internet, it was officially 11.4 celsius in Wexford waters. I still wore the gloves due to my lack of confidence with May water temps but they sagged an awful lot. And as they sagged, they were like carrying weights and made my arms tired. Once I was getting tired, that’s when the negative thoughts moved in. “Why am I doing this?”, “What do I need to prove?”, etc, etc. However the voice of experience then moved in. All the times  I got angry on last year’s swims, Niall talked me down and we finished them and then felt good about them. So I then knew, the present bad vibes would be long forgotten when I finished the jaunt, and went home to reflect.

According to Google Earth, there was to be a large caravan resort called Morriscastle roughly 2 KM into the swim but from the water there were no fields of mobile homes to be seen. There was a large gap in the dunes in the area which made sense to be the location. From the aerial perspective there wasn’t many other places that would have access points to the beach like that. As I neared the area I could see two senior gentlemen in bathing shorts approaching the water’s edge. It had occurred for me to stop and liaise with them but shyness kicked in, so I left them to wonder who might this be in black, who was approaching from the north with a tow float. The currents were fairly stagnant which means the App I had and indeed the website I mentioned earlier were more relevant to offshore currents.

There were lots of occasions when it got too shallow, either because of the local sand banks or just the gentle waves had pushed me too close to the beach and the incline was negligible. I was getting weary of the sagging gloves so I reasoned should I take them off and see if I can do without them? I stopped, stood up, took them off and shoved them down the front of my wetsuit. I figured it was not warm enough to stop and take a break on the beach and also time was moving on. I was now an hour and a half into the swim and I still couldn’t see the finish. I could see a vista of twenty meter high cliffs stretch out to the south and I could see a gap or two way off in the distance but there was no indication as to which gap contained my car.

Swimming on without the gloves, the speed noticeably picked up and I didn’t feel a chill in the water. This was reassuring and a good omen for the swims ahead. This time last year, the expedition hadn’t even started and this year I was now into 6KM swims already. I understand that the purists would reject the neoprene, but it does facilitate staying in the water long enough to cover the distances that are needed. I was thinking about this during the week and my mind debated the point that the people who explored space also needed protective equipment. And Hilary didn’t climb everest without an oxygen tank. Granted they didn’t do it with a helicopter and nor am I using flippers!

Swimming alongside the cliffs was picturesque. They were not huge but they were pretty and well kept. They were some form of brown sandstone and in places they were absolutely vertical rock face. The sun was beaming up ahead over the various gaps I mentioned, while there was a light overcast where I was at this point. Sometimes the lack of sun weighs in on my mood, but every time I looked back, I could see where I was, was gone from view which only confirmed progress was still ongoing.

Eventually one of the gaps drew near but the cliffs were so linear and close to the water’s edge, that if there was a carpark in the gap, it was not evident. Thankfully when I was 20 meters away from it, a car park unveiled itself. I stopped my watch and it informed me, I had been swimming for one hour and fifty nine minutes. This was slow for the distance but I knew that was because of the gear and the conditions and I was happy with the fact I had been exerting myself for three hours and I wasn’t exhausted. Again I know the channel crossing purists would scoff at the paltry effort, but I’m happy, and in the words of Father Finton Stack, “I’ve had my fun, and that’s all that matters!”.

I rang Jen at close to five o clock and then drove back to collect the bike and home.

If you liked this blog, please would you consider donating to my friend’s cancer treatment at this link and if you have already donated, thank you again for your kindness.

Warnings of Tinnaberna

Breaking Wind

It’s Saturday. It’s sunny and calm. I have to drive to the recycling depot and then go on an errand. The errand being a 3.5 KM swim from Cahore South (Old Bawn) to Balinoulart Beach.

According to windguru, it’s given for mixed weather in Dublin while Wexford’s outlook is brighter. Even when leaving Dublin, the DJ on Radio Nova was ominously proselytising about impending hailstones. It was like he was directing a personal wave of bad vibes in my direction as I began to doubt the blue skies I could see in the distant South. He seemed to be almost joyous in his predictions as if he was predicting a tsunami and if we heeded, he would feel responsible that he saved us.

There were no Gardaí at the County lines either but there were a phenomenal number of bollards on the motorway. I guessed the Gardaí had been diverted to Bray as most the motorway traffic was heading off to the town via the Shankill roundabout. More common sense whereby Bray was potentially going to be a hotbed of COVID as greater Dublin descends for an ice cream on the prom. Driving on through Wicklow, I switched the repeating Fleetwood Mac anthems on the radio for the tranquility of Lyric FM.

It took two and a half hours to get to base camp which was the car park of Balinoulart. As you approach the area, there are fields of fantastic windmills. I had mentioned them the last day, but now I was studying them carefully as the landscape was unfamiliar and they seemed to be a reliable point of reference for the swim. Almost coincidently, the last windmill was beside the finish point and was broken, thus stationary. All the other windmills were gently rotating and making the cups of tea needed nationally to listen to the GAA on the radio.

The cycle was longer today and quite hilly, but without any pressing deadlines, I took it at my own pace. I think absent mindedly I climbed a hill or two in top gear which is a testiment to my improving fitness. And while windguru had predicted an air temperature of 10 degrees, it was actually 17 (according to the car), which is tantemount to a nice summer’s day. The road winded and my turn to Cahore South was signalled by a picturesque church with a peaceful graveyard catching the sun between trees.

Final assessment of the swim indicated that I only had to swim the length of a windfarm. I didnt know if I would have the much considered current in my favour and I had given an hour and a half estimate for the swim before I was due to ring home and confirm all was safe. I had made note of other landmarks at the finish which were not as apparent, but still there was an element of the great unknown about the whole thing.

Once in the water, it was like flowing down a river. It felt fantastic as I overtook families out walking dogs. The revolving of the windmills made for the perspective that I was really motoring. But because there was no deliniated markings of the finish point on the horizon, I didn’t know how far was the 3.5 KM distance. Every time I stopped, I could feel the flow nudging me onwards. My goggles were giving trouble so I began wondering about the mundanities of buying new goggles (first world problems , I know). There was a few times were I was brought into knee deep water by the small waves but a couple of shunts and I was back at chest depth.

The finish came quickly. The few times I stopped, I made a note of the time in the swim but didn’t hang around due to the paranoia of getting cold. The paranoia stemmed from the fact that this was new territory for me (swimming distance in early May), however I could walk up on the beach at any point, and I needed to learn what the boundaries (or possibilities) were. In the end, I completed the distance in under 50 minutes. With gloves and socks, that is a very fast time for the official 3.6 KM according to Google Earth. The credit goes to the flow mostly though. Under these conditions, I could comfortably swim twice the distance the next time out.

I would at this point just like to thank all my very generous peers, who donated to my friend’s medical treatment. It is a great thing you have done and she is responding well to the treatment.

I am looking forward to the next swim, where I fear navigation may be comparible to negotiating the Gobi desert!